I guess I’m out of the loop. I hadn’t heard about this:
I trust the source, but haven’t investigated it for myself. This calls for discussion and prayer at St. Peter Lutheran Church and all other pro-life Lutheran congregations. Which is to say Lutheran congregations that are faithful to the Scriptures that teach that the fifth commandment applies to all human beings, including those who are still growing in their mothers’ womb.
Look here for the LCMS response to this.
Since I’m out of the loop, I’m looking for some information that tells me what resolution, if any, has come to this. If someone knows, let me know so I can take this post down. But if there is no resolution (which would be unsurprising), there is need for further “dialogue” about this.
“American Protestants do not have to believe in God because they believe in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce interesting atheists. The god most Americans say they believe in just is not interesting enough to deny. The only atheism that counts in America is to call into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I read an essay by Stanley Hauerwas, a famous theologian (such as that is possible today) at Duke University, from which the choice quote above is taken. He does a remarkable job of explaining why the widespread American belief in God seldom results in much that is recognizably Christian:
America is the first great experiment in Protestant social formation. Protestantism in Europe always assumed and depended on the cultural habits that had been created by Catholic Christianity. America is the first place Protestantism did not have to define itself over against a previous Catholic culture. So America is the exemplification of a constructive Protestant social imagination.
I believe – as Mark Noll rightly suggests in his book, America’s God – America is a synthesis of evangelical Protestantism, republican political ideology and commonsense moral reasoning. Americans were able to synthesize these antithetical traditions by making their faith in God indistinguishable from their loyalty to a country that insured them that they had the right to choose which god they would or would not believe in. That is why Bonhoeffer accurately characterized America Protestantism as “Protestantism without Reformation.”
American Protestants do not have to believe in God because they believe in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce interesting atheists in America. The god most Americans say they believe in just is not interesting enough to deny. The only kind of atheism that counts in America is to call into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty and happiness.
Thus America did not need to have an established church because it was assumed that the church was virtually established by the everyday habits of public life. For example, Noll calls attention to the 1833 amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution that did away with church establishment but nonetheless affirmed “the public worship of God, and the instructions in piety, religion, and morality, promote the happiness and prosperity of a people, and the security of republican government.” Noll points out that these words were written at the same time Alexis de Tocqueville had just returned to France from his tour of North America. Tocqueville descriptively confirmed the normative point made in the Massachusetts Constitution, observing:
“I do not know if all Americans have faith in their religion – for who can read to the bottom of hearts? – but I am sure that they believe it necessary to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion does not belong only to one class of citizens or to one party, but to the entire nation; one finds it in all ranks.”
Protestantism came to the land we now call American to make America Protestant. It was assumed that what it meant to be American and Protestant was equivalent to a faith in the reasonableness of the common man and the establishment of a democratic republic. But in the process the church in America became American – or, as Noll puts it, “because the churches had done so much to make America, they could not escape living with what they had made.”
As a result Americans continue to maintain a stubborn belief in a god, but the god they believe in turns out to be the American god. To know or worship that god does not require that a church exist because that god is known through the providential establishment of a free people. This is a presumption shared by the religious right as well as the religious left in America. Both assume that America is the church.
Noll ends his account of these developments with the end of the Civil War, but the fundamental habits he identifies as decisive in the formation of the American religious and political consciousness continues to shape the way Christians – in particular, Protestant Christians – understand their place in America.
Yet I think we are beginning to see the loss of confidence by Protestants in their ability to sustain themselves in America, just to the extent that the inevitable conflict between the church, republicanism, and common sense morality has now worked its way out. America is the great experiment in Protestant social thought but the world Protestants created now threatens to make Protestantism unintelligible to itself.
for the whole article:
I hate baptized consumerism. Actually, that’s not the right term. It should be something like “Making a decision to invite Jesus’ merchandise into my heart.” Or, “They’ll know we are Christians by our stuff, by our stuff,” which is usually a crappy remake of whatever fad is selling in the secular market.
I hate Christian consumerism. As though all you gotta do to be saved is say a prayer, and all you gotta do to be sanctified is stop listening to Lil Wayne and start listening to a guy who sounds almost exactly like Lil Wayne but doesn’t swear and tosses in Christ’s name here and there.
It’s like, “Sure, you can still eat twinkies and not go to the fat farm! We’re just going to take the delicious animal fat cream filling out of them. And make the yellow cake out of soybeans. But it’ll be great! But your whole life will change!”
Evangelicalism, when it behaves like this, should be called “Diet World” or “Diet Cross” or “Diet Christ”. Don’t lie to me. I know the low sugar ho-hos don’t taste as good as the real ones. I also know you don’t get skinny by trying to continue to eat ho hos, just with fewer calories.
I’d better stop now before I get started. The whole point was to show this excellent picture I accidentally found.
- Nicki Minaj: Lil Wayne ‘So Respectful’ in Video Shoot (atlantablackstar.com)
- Thomas Kinkade Factory Continues To Churn Out Paintings A Year After His Death (buzzfeed.com)
At my house, Christmas music begins to play sometime in the middle or early part of November. If you’ve ever listened to Christmas radio stations, you know that they play the same songs over and over and over and over and over again.
And then they play them a few more times.
It isn’t yet Thanksgiving, but I’ve already heard Wham!’s “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” at least five times. This is perhaps the only song of Wham’s oeuvre which still emerges from the mists of the early 80’s to remind us of those, by comparison to today, almost Victorian times when George Michael was still into women and when pop stars didn’t come out of the closet.
I think that’s probably a big part of the reason why people who like holiday music like holiday music, just as it’s probably part of the reason why people who have never lived in the country like the formulaic Chevy-truck-ad jingles that comprise most of what’s played on country-music (so-called) radio stations. People like it, at least in part, because it makes them feel safe.
Christmas begins about the same time in my house that it does in much of the United States—following hard upon Halloween. Both holidays were once Christian holy days, to whatever degree they may have been reappropriated from pagans.
In America they are pagan holidays again, although I think Samhain (isn’t that what the Wiccans call it?), Yule, and Saturnalia would be more enjoyable. What offends me about American subversions of Christian holidays—American re-paganization—is the awful aesthetics. Some of my aversion to “Christmas” in America arises from the way that the mystery and the miracle of the incarnation of God is obscured.
But mostly it’s just elitism.
I’ve hated American consumerism since I was a kid. It blights the mind, soul, and imagination by constantly making available (for a price) whatever is convenient and easily digestible. In its wake it leaves mind-numbingly ugly and boring places to live. It destroys all sense of the sacred. It creates soft minds and shrunken souls.
But my elitism really is an impediment when it comes to being a pastor. I don’t want to be superior or right; I want to teach Christians how the Church’s preparation for the birth of Jesus ought to be very different from the cheap consolation provided by American “Christmas.”
Cheap consolation is really the enemy in almost every case when liturgical pastors and pastors wanting to teach the doctrine of Evangelical Lutheran Church run into resistance from popular piety. American pop Christianity sells because people want to feel good and safe and because it’s easy to understand. Sometimes people turn to it because they are suffering and they need answers immediately. Other times people turn to it because it permits them to indulge themselves with the illusion that the solution to the suffering we endure as a result of living in a collapsing world is to go back to the simple answers about God we really always knew and from which we were never far.
American “Christmas”and its associated rituals—holiday music beginning in November, flagrant overspending, Christmas carol singing in Advent and parties in school, church, work all through December, overeating and overdrinking–all the Christmasy things that enable us to avoid honest appraisal of our selves, our lives, the way our society is going, and numb ourselves into a syrupy, sentimental glow—is almost exactly like American Christianity.
But here is where pastors and hearers who know something of the value of the pure teaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments and the liturgy and hymnody of the Church fail. American “Christianity” and American “Christmas” is democratic, and we are too often elitists. American “Christmas” isn’t supercilious toward people who just want to feel safe and good. It embraces them.
A lot of people believe that if they really like a song by Elvis, nobody can tell them that Bach’s music is simply better. So if they hear Joel Osteen preach and understand him, they also think that no one can tell them that a sermon by Chrysostom or Luther is simply better either.
American “Christmas” and American “Christianity” accept this reality in people and cater to it. But not only do I not cater to it—I despise it and have almost zero patience when people expect me to do the same thing. Lacking patience and love toward people who don’t immediately respond to real Christianity and real Christmas is not a Christian virtue. Harboring anger and resentment toward Lutherans who are stubborn in adhering to bad teaching and traditions flowing from that teaching–whether out of snobbery or out of anger–is grave sin. With this anger we make the Gospel noxious because we smear it with the scent of our own pride. Particularly pastors. When I get mad because I’m trying to teach God’s Word purely and you’re not listening, I’m really mad because you’re not respecting me or listening to me. And that is to use the ministry of the Gospel which Christ instituted for the salvation of sinners as a means of exalting myself.
Jesus preached and taught to the masses; He didn’t tickle ears, but taught the Word of God in a way that was accessible to normal people–not only the great. He was patient and continued to teach even when He met with opposition and mistreatment. Luther preached to and taught the masses. He sought to elevate them—that’s why the Reformation went hand in hand with a renewal of education. But he also taught; patiently, bearing with the people, serving them and caring enough to be understood by them.
I’ve failed consistently in this way. It’s not that I didn’t teach, but that I became angry and afraid when people didn’t get it or didn’t appear to want to get it. On the one hand there is fear because you want to be a good pastor, be faithful to Christ, serve the people. On the other hand there is simply sin and profanation of God’s Name and Word. There was my desire to be honored that trumped any other desire–whether to love and serve the congregation or to love and serve Christ. I was unwilling to bear with unjust criticism without snapping at my critics. At other times I’ve reacted to criticism that I thought was unjust with anger or defensiveness, later realizing that I was wrong, that I was failing to properly divide law and gospel, and I needed to be opposed.
Lutherans also have to be democratic in the sense that we are willing to teach God’s Word—slowly, patiently, consistently—and bear with people. That is the way that Jesus was democratic. He loved the people. So He was willing to teach them–the eternal Son–even when they wouldn’t hear Him and when they dishonored Him. Love means patiently teaching and listening to criticism and learning slowly, over time, where you are not being understood. So often people embrace false teaching, or bad traditions, because they are scared or because they feel stupid and the false teaching relieves the feelings of stupidity by addressing people where they are.
Then a guy like me comes in, teaches for awhile, receives flak, and very quickly begins responding in anger to the people. And is it any surprise if people then run to preachers (or to religious practices) that make them feel safe, that feel familiar? Is it surprising if people go to a pastor who is nice and acts like he loves them [even though he is a wolf], instead of to the one who comes to change everything and says, “You are doing it wrong”, and reacts with harshness and arrogance when they don’t immediately listen? In trying to roll back American Christmas in Lutheran churches so that we can once again observe Advent, there will be the inevitable conflict. People will say it’s “too catholic.” Probably one of the best ways we can observe Advent is to try to fast and repent of haughty and angry defensiveness, and show kindness, patience, and love to people who haven’t yet experienced the blessing of preparing for the mystery of Christ’s birth through Advent. Really, it’s not something to get angry about, but to have pity about, that lots of people would prefer to sing Christmas Carols for a month and haven’t developed a taste for the rich gospel we have in so many Lutheran Advent hymns.
I’m grateful for my beautiful wife and son and for the opportunity they give me to practice not being a jerk about American Christmas in Advent. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn to lead our family, graciously, into the gift of observing Advent with its call to repentance, faith, and willing obedience to Christ.
In long gone times there were outward, physical disciplines associated with repentance, faith, and renewal. Self-examination and confession and fasting went with repentance. Attending Advent services midweek meant giving one’s attention to Christ’s Word, which works in contrite hearts the faith that our sins, from which we cannot free ourselves, have been blotted out by the suffering and death of the baby of Mary. And where this faith is, there is joyful giving from a new and glad and confident heart. So Christians practiced almsgiving. Instead of buying family huge, extravagant gifts, they gave to the poor. This is the way I want to learn to spend Advent with my family. But that is a lot harder than simply trashing American consumerist “Christmas” and its associated rites, such as having to listen to “Feliz Navidad” for a month and a half. As annoying as that is. It takes doing it myself, and then walking with them into it. Not just giving orders.
I wrote an article for the church newsletter trying to explain the importance of Advent and why we don’t immediately start singing Christmas hymns in church in December. And I also tried to point out why it would be better if during Advent the Church behaved differently from the world, and instead of the church calendar filling up in December with Christmas parties (during Advent), we should consciously reject the way the world tries to greet the miracle of Jesus’ birth not by “making straight the way of the Lord” but by bombarding ourselves with things designed to arouse “the proper Christmas spirit”. I don’t know whether the article will succeed as a gracious attempt to teach the gifts of Advent or whether it will be one more instance of making people feel dumb and then wondering why they reject what you say. I’ll post it on here shortly.
Our society really need this witness from the Church in Advent. But it will never happen if those who understand the gift of Advent don’t love people enough to teach patiently and bear with people when they don’t get it or reject it. So I hope that God will teach me and sinners like me to love and serve our brothers and show the value of pure doctrine and the church’s liturgy by demonstrating the love and patience that come from the Gospel. Then maybe they could hear that we are truly safe in Him—not in the false comfort that comes from avoiding penitence, but in the true comfort given by Him who was placed in a manger to deliver us from our sins.
Prayer on the Festival of the Reformation
(October 8, 2012)
Lord Jesus Christ, You came into the world to call sinners to repentance, and to enlighten every man to eternal life. We praise You with our whole hearts, and thank Your great goodness and mercy, that You have come to this place, and to this church and communion with Your divine word and holy sacraments and have swept out the leaven of the papist doctrine and idolatry. Not only that, but You have also redeemed us poor sinners from the kingdom of darkness and called us to the light of the holy gospel, transferring us into the kingdom of grace.
Oh Lord Jesus, we are too insignificant for all of this Your goodness and faithfulness. But we pray to You with humble hearts that You would abide with us a little longer with Your grace, the divine word and holy sacraments, so that Your holy name would be known among us, alone be feared and glorified, and we live as is well-pleasing to You, and serve You. But whatever evil we have done against You and Your holy word—wherever we have not been willing to listen to the gospel—please forgive us those things, Lord Jesus Christ, by Your grace. Do not snatch away from us this treasure that makes a person blessed forever, but let it be preserved unadulterated by us and our descendants. Yes, Lord Jesus, preserve Your Word among us, because it is the joy and comfort of our hearts.
Protect and keep us and Your whole Christian Church—that is, Your Evangelical-Lutheran Church—from all error, unbelief, and harmful, alien doctrine. Defend against all enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and be our confidence, our strength, our shade and shield, so that the gates of hell do not overcome us. Especially we pray to You, Lord, our Savior, that You would visit the house of our hearts, enlighten us with Your Holy Spirit, purify our hearts, and grant that by grace we may walk worthily of the Gospel, remaining in the truth once recognized and confessed. O Lord Jesus, let Your salvation come to our souls, that we might become eternally blessed through You, and might see Your and Your great glory forever. Amen.
Some pastor sent this to my friend Pr. Fiene, and I’m linking to it and copying it here. I can relate to the writer. Almost too much. It’s good to know that my pastoral experience is not unique.
Burying a Church
I’m not a fan of VBS. At least, I haven’t been up until now. I’m not saying I’m a fan now. I’m just feeling something other than my normal deep seated conviction that I would rather do something else, like shave my eyebrows and eyelids, or lie in a bathtub full of scorpions.
I tend to hate cute stuff. Even when I was a kid, I was opposed to being forced to do hand motions about “arky, arky, arkies” and “give me gas in my chevy, cuz the Lord’s work is heavy.” And I also hated dancing around, singing baby songs, and making things with popsicle sticks. What made it worse was that there were always about 50 percent of the boys in the VBS who made fun of everything and made fun of you if you did what the church moms wanted you to do. But then my mom was always a VBS teacher, so I’d get it from her on the other end.
But on the other hand, that’s what VBS is about–cute stuff, kid stuff. And I’ve grown to appreciate how the women who run the VBS at our church put so much into it. With all the things our congregation has problems with, the VBS is something that we have a good reputation for. For the size of our church we have a huge turnout.
Still, I often find myself muttering to myself or complaining to my wife at VBS time. “What’s the point of doing VBS? It doesn’t teach doctrine. Yet out of all the things that happen at the church, probably more people show up and put their time and energy into it than anything else that’s done around church. Certainly more than hearing God’s Word…I need to make a whip, and after I get done demolishing Family Bookstore I can begin work on all the VBS’s around town.”
The difficulty is that it’s almost impossible to find a VBS that is like VBS is supposed to be–i.e. fun–and doesn’t teach atrocious doctrine. I read the stuff the church that I am supposed to shepherd sent home with my son. It was simply inadequate doctrinally. It kept talking about how God is with us, but said nothing about Christ, nothing about sin, nothing about repentance, faith or baptism–certainly not baptism.
On the other hand, Concordia’s VBS’s have, in my past experience, just not been very good. And the little Lutheran publishing houses who make VBS’s that are no doubt doctrinally rich, but simply won’t work here (or I would imagine, in most LCMS churches.) Besides, being written by pastors, they lack the sensibility that the women who volunteer to do VBS have. IE they are not cute. Frankly, I’ve found out a hard lesson through painful experience with Sunday School teachers: if you give the Sunday School teachers (or VBS teachers) materials to teach which is teaching them as much new stuff as the kids, you will frequently have rebellious teachers on your hands–not simply because they don’t respect authority and love cuteness more than God’s Word, but because they have been made to feel stupid. The difficulty is that often you don’t have an opportunity to teach Sunday School or VBS teachers, because they teach but do not come to bible class.
I used to get angry about this, but now I realize that I was not doing a good job of teaching and shepherding. The goal is not to frighten the teachers and make them think that all this time they really didn’t know anything about Christianity at all. The goal is to rejoice in the faith and knowledge the Holy Spirit has already given them, and to build them up in it toward maturity. But I used to think, “I have to teach the kids NOW, and I don’t have time for the teachers to finally decide to stop resisting the Holy Spirit!” I really hope that there are very few men coming out of the seminary who were as impatient and carnal toward Christ’s flock as I was when I started. I hope that most people know what I’ve learned painfully in the ministry before they get into the parish.
Anyway, so ending the whining about VBS, an interesting thing happened tonight. I was a Babylonian official. I asked the kids, “Why doesn’t Daniel just pretend that he doesn’t believe in the Lord and quit praying to get King Nebuchadnezzar off his back? What’s the big deal? Just ‘cooperate and graduate'” (as we used to say at seminary). “If it was me, I’d just pretend that I didn’t believe in the true God, skip the lions, and start praying again later.” Then I asked the kids, “Wouldn’t you?”
There were about 5 kids in this group. 3 of the kids said, “Yeah, I’d totally do that.” (They were about 7 or 8 years old.) These kids don’t really go to church much. So, they probably didn’t understand wheat the big deal was. But two little girls stood there and were like, “No, never. The lions would have to eat me.” (Of course the point of the story was that God hears our prayers and helps us, a very simple Christianity 101 fact that I didn’t really believe after I stopped being a little kid and found out that sometimes you pray to God for a long time and seem to get no response.)
But it struck me as I walked away from the kids–
this is why VBS is worth doing. Because the kids get to practice confessing Christ before men and praying out loud. They get to think about what it meant when people in the Bible confessed the Triune God even though they could have denied Him and saved their lives.
Now the three kids who said they would deny Christ: maybe I sinned against them. I’m pretty good at expressing skepticism and unbelief, and even though we were just playing, in a sense I was tempting them to sin. Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy! We should be more careful about how we speak to children! “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were tied around his neck and he was thrown into the heart of the sea.”
That was kind of what was sad about it. Kids are less hardened as a general rule. Maybe that’s what Jesus is getting at when He says “Let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of God is of such as these.” What was sad is that these little kids were expressing the jadedness and cynicism that adults come to wear as armor, even in church. We crack jokes and are sarcastic and cynical because we know how it feels when the devil and the world make you pay for daring to believe in Christ and entrust yourself to Him.
On the other hand, the two girls who said, “No, never!” Of course, kids overestimate their own ability to resist temptation, right? But I don’t know; I’m not convinced that if right now all of us were about to be thrown to the lions that that little girl wouldn’t have been braver than me and most or all of the men in the church. She had a look in her eye. She was serious. By no means was she going to deny her Lord. Where did she get this conviction that she should never deny Jesus? This is not a church full of ultra pious people.
But she did have to risk something just to confess Christ in that way. The other kids were saying, “Yeah, I’d deny the Lord,” and the pastor (albeit in a costume) seemed to be egging them on. And she gave me this deadly serious look and said, “Never.”
In Lutheran theology we say that Christ hides Himself, but comes to us in earthly things. He speaks to us through the pastor and forgives us. He really and truly gives us His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins under the bread and wine. The shepherd’s voice echoes in the ears of the flock through faithful preaching of His word. In the water with the Word He buries us with Him and resurrects us and seats us with Him at the right hand of the Father.
And then the liturgy teaches us that, just as we come to recognize Christ in the bread and wine by faith, it is “good right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks”, because the Lord who comes to us in His body and blood on the Lord’s day actually fills all things and is Lord over all things for the church. Because He gives Himself to us in the Lord’s Supper, all of creation and all of our lives and every experience becomes a gift from Him, because He has redeemed it all. “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos…or life or death…all things are yours, for you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” (2 Corinthians)
So that said, I think that I just saw the kingdom of God today. St. Peter denied Jesus. It was (seemingly) a normal day, just like today. It was a little serving girl that asked Peter whether he was one of Jesus’ disciples–not someone to be frightened of or take seriously, anymore than this little girl today with her confession.
But in front of that little girl, Peter denied Jesus. Today, this little girl (of whom Jesus says, “of such is the kingdom of God”)–being tested by her pastor, boldly confessed Christ. There was no sword at our necks but our Lord Jesus Christ saw the whole thing. We ignore those things but Jesus ignores nothing. He was pleased with that little member of His body; He is pleased when we are faithful in small things so that we may be entrusted with great things.
Jesus, Lord, give me such a naive, foolish, unpretentious, unashamed faith in you–a faith that is not shot through with intellectual pride and covered with signals to the unbelieving world and the proud flesh of others that I am not an ignorant little child, that I am one of them as well as one of Christ’s. Let me be foolish and believing instead of cynical and faithless. Let me be like this little child instead of one with open eyes, knowing good and evil, but no longer able to know You.
I suppose as long as Jesus continues to show up at VBS and does not despise popsicle sticks, Lutheran congregations and synods or Lutheran pastors, I will put my cloak on and jump into the sea in order to be with him–or put on a palestinian shepherd costume and play bible stories with the kids.
- Biblical Basis Question for Vacation Bible School :: VBS (religitic.wordpress.com)
- Sunday School with Gospel GRUNT (apologies.wordpress.com)
- VBS 2012: The Crucial Role of Teachers (gracesatisfies.wordpress.com)
- One in Christ: A profound mystery (emmillerwrites.wordpress.com)
- Confessional Lutheranism as Ideology and the Salvation of Unbaptized Infants (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- No more Sunday School! (peteswhite.wordpress.com)
- Graphics for VBS (pickandprintgallery.wordpress.com)
- The Solution To The Chaos (excluded-middle.com)
- Sunday Dogma-School (excluded-middle.com)
- Denmark: Same-Sex Marriages in Church (kiwianglo.wordpress.com)
- Christian Popsicles by Sebastian Errazuriz (mocoloco.com)